Friday, February 7, 2014

The Monuments Men [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Monuments Men [2014] (starring, directed and screenplay cowritten by George Clooney along with Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel [IMDb] and Bret Witter [IMDb]) is a reasonably well made, _intentionally lighter_ than it could have been, film about a group of people (largely "egg-headed" architects / art historians) who most would not necessarily immediately consider "heroes" who did, in fact, do much to _save the world_ as we know it during World War II.

And my guess is that EVERYONE associated with this film understood how tough the calls being made were: Landing on the beaches of Normandy ONE MONTH AFTER THE INVASION... (some beach obstacles still present both as a reminder to the arriving soldiers back then and for viewers here for cinematic effect), Col. Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney) has a tough time convincing a(n actually) lower-ranking field commander of the validity of his "Monuments Men's" mission.  The captain tells the colonel: "Look, you're telling me to save a (1000 year old) church (in the approaching town).  But if the Nazis decide to use its bell tower (as a sniper's nest), we're going to blow it up.  Understand?"  We all do ...

BUT as Frank Stokes explained to President Roosevelt in the months before this field encounter in Normandy: "Mr President, (God willing) in the coming months our troops are going to be liberating Florence, Italy and Paris, France, and who's going to assure the world that when we do, Michaelangelo's David is still going to be standing and Da Vinci's Mona Lisa is still going to be smiling?"  And _most of us_ can understand the stakes involved here as well... WHAT AN ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS WAR WW II WAS ...

And so it was, despite being a unit of OLD, mostly OUT-OF-SHAPE, "EGG HEADS" (played among others by Bill Murray and John Goodman at their character actor best) with FDR's reluctant and Churchill's presumed blessings, this multinational unit of architects / art historians was sent out to Europe to try to bring some semblance of order and decency to a "gun fight in a china shop."

AND IT WASN'T EASY.  The Nazis were first out to plunder occupied Europe and then out LARGELY "to burn it all" (while squirreling away bits and pieces of Art for themselves and to help finance their escapes).  And the Soviets marching on Nazi Germany from the East had their own agenda: Having lost 20+ million people in this conflict, they felt that they had the "moral right" to simply CART AWAY EVERYTHING THAT THEY COULD as "Reparations."  Finally, AND IMHO MOST INTERESTINGLY, THE FRENCH, weren't necessarily all that trustful of the Americans / Brits either.  Parisian curator Claire Simone (played by Cate Blanchett) initially did not trust American James Granger (played by Matt Damon) who prior to being recruited for this unit had worked as a curator for New York's own Metropolitan Museum of Art: "Oh, you're here SIMPLY to 'save our art' and NOT to take it back to YOUR 'MET'" she said in a disbelieving French puff. 

AND yet the crime, indeed CRIMES, was/were SO LARGE. 

This film will frustrate purists, who'd perhaps wish that the film was _more eggheady_ (that is MORE like a documentary).  But there's the book for that.  Instead, George Clooney, et al, seemed _to choose_ to make a _lighter film_ that acknowledged that on a superficial level most viewers really "wouldn't care" about the sacrifices made by this unit -- and two of its members, Brit Donald Jeffries (played by Hugh Bonneville) and Frenchman Jean Claude Clermont (played by Jean Dujardin), did DIE in the war -- BUT ON THE OTHER HAND MOST VIEWERS WOULD ALSO APPRECIATE THE LOSS TO THE WORLD IF THE ONLY "Mona Lisa" image that we would have today would be the caricature drawn of it by SIMPSONS' creator Matt Groenig.  IT IS GOOD THAT THE REAL THING STILL EXISTS.  And this film celebrates the folks -- of the Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] / "Greatest Generation" -- who helped keep it so.

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